The Parthenon Marbles must return to their home in Greece! So ruled a majority of the audience, jury and judges hearing the National Hellenic Museum’s Trial of the Parthenon Marbles, Thursday night. The National Hellenic Museum (NHM) presented the fourth Trial in its acclaimed series before an audience of over 800 citizens, whose votes tilted the scales of justice in favor of Greece’s claim for the Marbles. The jury also ruled 8-4 for the Marbles’ return. Judge Richard Posner cast the sole dissenting vote in the 4-1 decision of the judges. He asserted that the sculptures created by the ancient Greeks belong to the world and should remain at the British Museum where they have resided for 200 years.
On March 16, 2017, the National Hellenic Museum invited the public to weigh in on one the most highly contested international cases concerning cultural history. Following the extraordinary successes of The Trials of Socrates, Orestes, and Antigone, the NHM conducted its latest mock trial in front of a packed auditorium. Some of the nation’s best legal minds presented a fascinating debate to determine if the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Greece or remain at the British Museum.
The Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, are half of the surviving statues that once decorated the exterior of the Parthenon. Between 1801 and 1803, Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin and the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, oversaw the removal of these priceless antiquities to London, where they were eventually acquired by the British Museum. Since obtaining its independence, Greece has pressed for the Marbles’ return on the grounds that the sculptures were never legally obtained. The British Museum has routinely denied this accusation and has advocated that the sculptures remain in place in its world class, encyclopedic museum setting.
Judges Richard A. Posner and William J. Bauer of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke, US District Judge Charles P. Kocoras, and Cook County Circuit Judge Anna H. Demacopoulos presided over the proceedings and each provided insightful rulings at the conclusion of the events.
Greece was represented in its effort to regain control of the Marbles by Daniel K. Webb, Sam Adam Jr., and Robert A. Clifford. On the other side of the case, the British Museum was represented by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Patrick M. Collins, and Tinos Diamantatos.
In an exciting new element to this year’s NHM Trial, two experts were examined to provide facts and history to the audience. Testifying on behalf of Greece was Dr. Fiona Rose-Greenland. Molly Morse Limmer served as the British expert witness. Both experts were cross-examined for a lively exploration of the nature of historical permissions and the treatment of artifacts that eventually reside in museums the world over.
Both teams offered compelling cases that asked the judges, jury and audience to consider the complexities of law, history, and heritage. The evening provided a robust debate on topics as diverse as the specific validity of Elgin’s Ottoman “firman” to broad questions surrounding cultural heritage and its preservation. Cultural universalism, nationalism, and symbolic representation were discussed. It was debated whether law, morality, or justice should be the applicable aspect for debating the case.
The Jury of twelve heard the arguments and voted 8-4 to return the Marbles’ to Greece. Some jurors suggested that the role of diplomacy in reestablishing the Marbles physical and narrative context was paramount in their decision to vote to return the Marbles to Athens.
As Konstantinos Armiros, NHM Trustee and Trial Planning Committee Chair, said, “This Trial was our most successful ever. The lawyer’s arguments were brilliant, giving many lay people a glimpse into what real life courtroom theatrics look like. A majority of the audience, jury and judges all ruled in favor of Greece’s claim for the Marbles’ return.”
The topics of the NHM Trial Series have always sparked passionate argument. No matter the outcome of the judge, jury and audience votes in these mock trials, raising awareness about issues of cultural heritage and historical memory continue to be the focus of the National Hellenic Museum. The NHM Trial of the Parthenon Marbles honored the Hellenic legacy through lively legal debate and democratic participation.
The NHM Trial of the Parthenon Marbles is a prime example of the kind of educational programming the National Hellenic Museum is proud to offer year-round. The Museum provides lifelong learning to thousands of school children and adults, bringing the Hellenic legacy to life every day.
- The Honorable Richard A. Posner, Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
- The Honorable Anne M. Burke, Illinois Supreme Court.
- The Honorable William J. Bauer, Judge for the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
- The Honorable Charles P. Kocoras, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois
- The Honorable Anna H. Demacopoulos, Circuit Court of Cook County
- Robert A. Clifford, Founder & Senior Partner, of Clifford Law Offices and past president of the Chicago Bar Association
- Patrick M. Collins, Partner, Perkins Coie, former First Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois
- Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Litigation Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, former U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois
- Dan K. Webb, Chairman, Winston & Strawn, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois
- Sam Adam Jr., founder Sam Adam Junior Law Group
- Tinos Diamantatos, partner, Morgan Lewis